The gospel of Buddha - by Paul Carus - PDF ebook

The gospel of Buddha

The gospel of Buddha
The gospel of Buddha 

This booklet needs no preface for him who is familiar with the sacred books of Buddhism, which have been made accessible to the Western world by the indefatigable zeal and industry of scholars like Burnouf, Hodgson, Bigandet, Bichler, Foucaux, Senart, Weber, Fausboll, Alexander Csoma, Wassiljew, Rhys Davids, F. Max Muller, Childers, Oldenberg, Schiefner, Eitel, Beal, and Spence Hardy. 

To those not familiar with the subject it may be stated that the bulk of its contents is derived from the old Buddhist canon. Many passages, and indeed the most important ones, are literally copied from the translations of the original texts. Some are rendered rather freely in order to make them intelligible to the present generation. Others have been rearranged; still, others are abbreviated. Besides the three introductory and the three concluding chapters, there are only a few purely original additions, which, however, are neither mere literary embellishments nor deviations from Buddhist doctrines. 

They contain nothing but ideas for which prototypes can be found somewhere among the traditions of Buddhism, and have been added as elucidations of its main principles. For those who want to trace the Buddhism of this book to its fountain-head a table of reference has been added, which indicates as briefly as possible the main sources of the various chapters and points out the parallelisms with Western thought, especially in the Chris tian Gospels

Buddhism, like Christianity, is split up into innumerable sects, distinguished mainly by peculiar superstitions or ceremonial rites; and these sects not unfrequently cling to their sectarian tenets as being the main and most indispensable features of their religion. The present book follows none of the sectarian doctrines but takes an ideal position upon which all true Buddhists may stand as upon common ground. 

Thus the arrangement into the harmonious and systematic form of this Gospel of Buddha, as a whole, is the main original feature of the book. Considering the bulk of its various details, however, it must be regarded as a mere compilation, and the aim of the compiler has been to treat his material about in the same way as he thinks that the author of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament used the accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

 He has ventured to present the data of Buddha s life in the light of their religio-philosophical importance; he has cut out most of their apocryphal adornments, especially those in which the Northern traditions abound, yet he did not deem it wise to shrink from preserving the marvelous that appears in the old records, whenever its moral seemed to justify its mention; he only pruned the exuberance of wonder which delights in relating the most incredible things, apparently put on to impress, while in fact, they can only tire. Miracles have ceased to be a religious test, yet the belief in the miraculous powers of the Master still bears witness to the holy awe of the first disciples and reflects their religious enthusiasm. 

Lest the fundamental idea of Buddha s doctrines is misunderstood, the reader is warned to take the term "self" in the sense in which Buddha uses it. The "self" of man can be and has been understood in a sense to which Buddha would never have made any objection. Buddha denies the existence of " self " as it was commonly understood in his time; he does not deny man's mentality, his spiritual constitution, the importance of his personality, in a word, his soul. But he does deny the mysterious ego-entity, the "man, in the sense of a kind of soul-monad which by some schools was supposed to reside behind or within mans bodily and psychical activity as a distinct being, a kind of thing-in-itself, and a metaphysical agent assumed to be the soul.*

This philosophical superstition, so common not only in India but all over the world, corresponds to man's habitual egotism in practical life; both are illusions growing out of the same root, which is the vanity fair of worldliness, inducing man to believe that the purpose of his life lies in his self. Buddha proposes to cut off entirely all thought of self so that it will no longer bear fruit.

Thus Buddha s Nirvana is an ideal state, in which man's soul, after being cleansed from all self ishness and sin, has become a habitation of the truth, teaching him to distrust the allurements of pleasure and to confine all his energies to attending to the duties of life. Buddha s doctrine is no negativism. An investigation into the nature of man s soul shows that while there is no atman or ego- entity, the very being of man consists in his karma, and his karma remains untouched by death and continues to live. 

Thus, by denying the existence of that which appears to be our soul and for the destruction of which in death we tremble, Buddha actually opens (as he expresses it himself) the door of immortality to mankind; and here lies the corner-stone of his ethics and also of the comfort as well as the enthusiasm which his religion imparts. Anyone who does not see the positive aspect of Buddhism will be unable to understand how it could exercise such a powerful influence upon millions and millions of people.

Author: Paul Carus
Publication date:1894

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